There’s a Bimbo on the Cover Verse 8: Who Reads Reviews, Anyway?

Today, verse 8:

They reviewed my book in Locus magazine.

They reviewed my book in Locus magazine.

The way Mark Kelly synopsized it,

I barely recognized it,

but they reviewed my book in Locus magazine.

True story. In fact, it happened repeatedly with my Analog stories.

Now I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not dislike Mark Kelly, who reviews short fiction for Locus, the SF book industry magazine. I don’t recall that I’ve ever met him, in fact. And I’m sure he’s a delightful person, but every review he wrote of one of my Analog stories informed me that I had missed the Mark (snarf)— he didn’t understand what the story was about.

This is not completely limited to Mark Kelly, mind you. I had a reviewer of THE MERI inform the interested reader that the book was about a race of Mer-people and their interactions with humans.

No … it’s not. Really.

The review I recall the most vividly was for my third story in Analog—a novelette entitled “Blythe Magic”.  I was still very new to publishing, and it was the first time I think I’d ever read a review of one of my stories. It was also a very special story to me—inspired by my sister Pat, who died far too young of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (that’s the human form of Mad Cow disease).

Mark Kelly began his review of the story this way:

Analog, for all its self-satisfied insularity as the one source of legitimate hard science fiction, publishes a surprising amount of stories seemingly meant for readers, and perhaps written by writers, who’ve never read much sf before. Analog stories are constantly reinventing science fictional wheels, and their plain-wrap styles prohibit the literary subtlety that might give these basic themes some new aspect. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff’s “Blythe Magic”, a hospital patient discovers psychokinesis a means of overcoming her paralyzed condition.”

If that was all there had been to the story, he’d have had a point, but that’s not where the story ended or what it was, ultimately, about. The story was about a young journalist who begins to lose control of her body due to a mysterious neural disorder. She develops telekinetic abilities to cope with it. But THEN she begins to realize that the miraculous powers she’s acquired are actually holding her back from recovering the physical abilities she might relearn with concerted and arduous effort. They’ve become a crutch. The focus of the plot is her struggle against inertia, of giving up her seeming miracle because the far harder chore of relearning how to talk and walk will give her back to her husband and young son.

I don’t know to this day if Mark just stopped reading at a certain point, figuring that’s all there was to the story, or if he read the whole thing and just didn’t connect with the plot, but I noticed a trend. He seemed not to like any of the stories the magazine published. Or at least not stories that were of a particular type. A particular type that I just happened to write. Frequently. In Analog.

At a convention, as I walked with Analog editor Stan Schmidt (who is neither self-satisfied nor insular, nor of the opinion that Analog is “the one source of legitimate hard science fiction”) , I asked, “What gives with this guy? ”  (In new-writer-ese this translates to “Why does he hate me?”)

Stan gave a rueful shrug and said, “I don’t know, but I’ve actually considered not submitting Analog to Locus for review.”

Arlan Andrews and Robert Sawyer, who were walking with us, agreed that Stan should stop sending the magazine to Locus. Later another group of us would talk him out of it, pleading that bad press was better than none at all, and Mark was, after all, even-handed in his dislike of our stories.

Some years later, my Kelly Curse (which is something like the Curse of the Bambino) acquired  a new wrinkle: I am a proud, card-carrying, button-wearing member of the dread Analog MAFIA (Making Appearances Frequently in Analog). Notwithstanding this, I have had several stories published in Interzone, which, I am told, is almost freakish for someone who was published so frequently in Analog. Mark reviewed my story “Dr. Dodge” this way:

“”Doctor Dodge”, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Interzone Nov 97) Parable of a man who tries to avoid Death by repeatedly changing his name, his career, his residence — until caught up by loneliness.”

Uh . . . not exactly, but hey, he put it on the Locus Recommended Reading list, which I have to assume means he liked it. Now I will tell you that “Dr. Dodge” is one of my favorite stories to EVER come out of my pen. So, thank you, Mark. I appreciate the sentiment, even if I didn’t understand the review. 🙂



There’s a Bimbo on the Cover Verse 8: Who Reads Reviews, Anyway? — 6 Comments

  1. At least you got Locus to review your work. Mine? They went out of their way to avoid reviewing it.

  2. I recollect Mr. Kelly. He once reviewed a story of mine, “Captive Dreams,” writing that it was “about” the ethics of using animal experimentation in the development of medical devices. What it was about was a mother who had so identified with the constant care her son required that she could not deal with his growing independence using the device. So she had him taken off, obviously using the animal experimentation aspect as a rationalization. This makes me wonder if Mr. Kelly persistently missed the point of other stories, as well.

    It might be that if someone has a preconceived notion of Analog as a magazine “about” rivets, that he will pre-judge the stories in the context of their venue rather than on their own merits.

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